Italy’s Division I set to kick off 2019 season

The Italian Football League Div. I kicks off this weekend with eight of the nine teams in action. The Firenze Guelfi, do not make their debut until March 17 when they face the Parma Panthers.

American Football International presents an analysis of each team with a few observations of our own.

The Milano Seamen won their second straight Italian title in 2018 with a sound 28-14 victory over the surprising Bolzano Giants. This was the fourth title for the Seamen in the past five years

And as the new season gets underway, the Milano has to be considered one of the favorites for the crown. Nevertheless, the other  eight teams have added changes and reinforcements and some have undergone dramatic facelifts, including the Guelfi Firenze.

Six teams will advance to the playoffs


IMPORTS: Xavier Mitchell WR – Luke Zahradka QB –  Anthony Sherrils S

HEAD COACH: Michael Wood

The defending Italian champions under head coach Michael Wood have not made many changes in a powerful roster. With quarterback Luke Zahradka (2nd leading passer  with 2,385 and league-best 40 tds) back along with the league’s leading receiver Xavier Mitchell, the Seamen have added hard-nosed defensive back Anthony Sherrils (University of Missouri).  Also returning is offensive coordinator Marcus Herford. During the regular season Mitchell finished with 946 yards and also a league-best 18 td receptions. He also led the league in touchdowns scored with 22.


IMPORTS: James Flanders  RB – Dontavius Heard DB

HEAD COACH: Giorgio Longhi

Bologna is appearing in Italy’s Division I for the first time since 2016 after winning the Division 2 title in 2018. Warriors head coach Giorgio Longhi will rely on his  Italian quarterback Nicolò “Willo” Scaglia who has played for the Warriors for the past two seasons.. In eight games in 2018 he threw for 1,175 yards and 19 touchdowns. The team has also brought in running back James Flanders from Tulsa University. The 5’10”, 200 lb Flanders will add a solid rushing game to the Warriors. Bologna has shored up the defensive secondary with Dontavius Heard (Middle Tennessee State).


IMPORTS: Reilly Hennessey QB –Derrick Bryant LB, Vincenzo Ferraro WR

Head coach: Andrew Papoccia

Parma, who reached the final six straight times from 2010 to 2015 and won the title four times, were semifinalists in 2018. The Panthers finished the year with an 8-2 record but were surprisingly bounced from the semifinals by the Bolzano Giants. Parma has made the biggest change at quarterback in Italy this season as Reilly Hennessey  (Central Washington) will be behind center replacing Tommaso Monardi, who was the starter for the Panthers for eight years helping the team win four titles. The 6’3″, 200 lb Hennessey, from Camas, Washington threw for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018 to go along with his 2,551 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2017. He also ran for 572 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, setting a CWU single season record for rushing yards by a quarterback and the year before he rushed for 477.

Also joining the Panthers is defensive back Derrick Bryant (University Of Indianapolis Greyhounds, 2013—2016) who played for the Lixil Deers in Japan’s XLeague in 2018. The 5’11”, 220 lb Bryant from South Holland, Illinois, spent the 2018 season playing linebacker for the Deers following an outstanding career at Indianapolis. In his senior season, he recorded 121 tackles  and was named 1st Team All GVLC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) and voted Outstanding Linebacker of the Year.

Expect the Panthers to again be in a battle for the gold in Italy.


IMPORTS: Austin Gahafer QB – Mark Simone WR – Joshua Cox DB

Head Coach: Argeo Tisma

Head coach Argeo Tisma has reassembled a Giants team that went all the way to the Italian Bowl in 2018, losing a tight game 28-14 to the Milano Seamen. He has signed one of the top quarterbacks from the German Football League in Austin Gahafer, (Moorehead State University) who guided the Potsdam Royals throwing for 2,968 yards and 38 touchdowns.  The  Royals beat the Milano Seamen 43-41 in EFL play in 2018 and Gahafer completed 31 of 48 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns. Returning is receiver Mark Simone who was the fourth leading receiver in Italy last year with 800 yards and 13 touchdowns. The last import brought in by Tisma is ex Arizona Cardinal Joshua Cox (Central Michigan).

The Giants, with the only American football specific facility in Italy, have not missed the playoffs in Italy since 2010. They will no doubt be playoff contenders again this year.


IMPORTS: Alexander Germany RB/QB– Dejvion Steward DB

Head Coach: Adam Rita

The head coach for Bergamo, veteran Adam Rita will rely on young Italian quarterback  Andrea Fimiani. Finiani played six games at quarterback for the Lions in 2018 throwing for 750 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for another 366 and two scores. He will be joined in the backfield by versatile running back/quarterback Alexander Germany (San Jose State) who is in his sixth season playing in Europe. He spent the 2018 season with UTA Pesaro in Italy. He played for the Bolzano Giants (2013, 2014 & 2016) and spent one season (2015) with the Saarland Hurricanes in the German Football League. Bergamo’s only other import is defensive back Dejvion Steward from Tiffin University. Steward spent the 2018 season with the Bolzano Giants, helping them reach the Italian Bowl. 


IMPORTS: Mark Wright QB – Adehkeem Brown DB 

Head Coach: Luca Lorandi

New head coach Luca Lorandi will be trying to improve on a dismal last place finish for Torino in 2018. He has signed as his quarterback Mark Wright (Langston University) who played for the Straubling Spiders in Germany’s GFL2. In leading the Spiders to a third place finish in their first season in GFL2, Wright threw for 3,680 yards and 52 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Lorandi has also added Adehkeem Brown (Quincy University) to bolster the defensive secondary.


IMPORTS: Nelson Hughes QB – Dylan Albertson DB 

HEAD COACH: Roberto Rotelli

The Ancona Dolphins finished with a 4-6 record in 2018 and were knocked out of the wild card playoffs by the Lazio Ducks. Coach Rotelli will rely on former Ingolstadt Dukes QB Nelson Hughes ((North Greenville University, NCAA Div. II).  Hughes, 6′, 185 lbs,  a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was the seventh leading passer in the German Football League in 2018 playing for the Ingolstadt Dukes. He threw for 2,947 yards and 30 touchdowns in averaged 210 yards a game. He also rushed for 352 yards and another three touchdowns. Also signed for 2019 is defensive back Dylan Albertson, a 6’2″, 212 lb defensive back from the University of Central Missouri (USA: Division II). 


IMPORTS: Tyler Johnson QB – Mike Gentili RB – Lorenzo Melchiorre DB

Head Coach: Davide Giuliano

The new Lazio Ducks head coach is a familiar name in Italy and Europe. Davide Giuliano, who is also Italy’s national team head coach, has taken the reins of a team that marched all the way to the Italian semifinals in 2018. Lazio was eliminated by the eventual champions, the Milano Seamen, but not before becoming the surprise of the league in 2018. Also returning to Lazio is defensive coordinator Juha Hakala who coached the Helsinki Roosters to the Finnish title in 2018. Hakala was head coach of the Lazio Marines in 2017.

The Ducks have brought in Tyler Johnson at quarterback. Johnson, a former All American at Alfred University (NCAA Div. III) played in six games for the Hildesheim Invaders in 2018 in the German Football League, throwing for 533 yards and three touchdowns. Returning at running back is Mike Gentili who rushed for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while catching 40 passes for 382 yards and six touchdowns.  Defensive back Lorenzo Melchiorre from American International University, who played for the Spanish champion Badalona Dracs in 2018 will bolster the secondary for the Ducks.


IMPORTS: Silas Nacita RB – Lynx Hawthorne WR – Steve Franco DB

Head Coach: Art Briles

New head coach Art Briles (Baylor University) wasted no time signing two former players Silas Nacita and Lnyx HawthorneNacita had a spectacular season with the Marburg Mercenaries in the German Football League in 2018. He led the league in all-purpose yards averaging 192.6 per game. He rushed for 808 yards and 10 TDs, passed for 811 yards and 12 TDs, caught 65 passes for 1,005 yards and 15 TDs, returned 10 punts for 140 yards and a TD, returned 28 kickoffs for 743 yards and punted 44 times for 682 yards (38.2 yard average). Hawthorne was All Big 12 while at Baylor. Steve Franco (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) rounds out the trio of imports brought in by Briles. The versatile safety earned All-PSAC West honors from his free safety spot. He started all 12 games in his senior year, including once at strong safety, and finished second on the team with 65 total tackles and 36 solo stops. He picked off three passes, returning one 50 yards for a touchdown.


Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.